Finding a sleeping bag that is lightweight, easy to care for, inexpensive and fits you perfectly is a tough task. Temperature ratings feel different to each person and there are many features to the best backpacking sleeping bag.
One of our big goals here at The Adventure Junkies is to make your life easier when it comes to gearing up for the outdoors. In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about backpacking sleeping bags and show you our selection of the best sleeping bag for a good nights sleep on the trail, in any conditions.
For more of our top backpacking gear recommendations, check out the Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads.
Quick Answer - The Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags
Mountain Hardwear Flame 20
Coleman Comfort Cloud 40
Eddie Bauer Flying Squirrel
Western Mountaineering Antelope MF
The North Face Cat’s Meow 22
Teton Sports Celsius Junior
Comparison Table - Best Sleeping Bags for Backpacking
|Mountain Hardwear Flame 20||Synthetic||21 F||2.63 lbs||$$||4.0|
|Coleman Comfort Cloud 40||Synthetic||40 F||7.8 lbs||$||4.5|
|Eddie Bauer Flying Squirrel||850 Down||40 F||1.44 lbs||$$$||4.0|
|Western Mountaineering Antelope MF||850 Down||5 F||2.44 lbs||$$$$||4.1|
|The North Face Cat’s Meow 22||Synthetic||22 F||3 lbs||$$||3.8|
|Kelty Woobie||Synthetic||30 F||2.25 lbs||$||4.8|
|Teton Sports Celsius Junior||Synthetic||20 F||2.65 lbs||$||4.2|
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Reviews - Best Backpacking Sleeping Bags
Mountain Hardwear Flame 20
BEST FOR: STAYING WARM IN WET CONDITIONS
PROS: Dries fast, lightweight for synthetic
CONS: Half zip harder to get out of
Coleman Comfort Cloud 40
BEST FOR: BUDGET CAR CAMPERS LOOKING FOR COMFORT
PROS: Very comfortable, inexpensive, lots of room
Eddie Bauer Flying Squirrel
BEST FOR: SUMMER HIKERS LOOKING FOR LOTS OF ROOM
PROS: Versatile fit, packs down small
CONS: Lower warmth to weight than other options
Western Mountaineering Antelope MF
The North Face Cat’s Meow 22
Teton Sports Celsius Junior
BEST FOR: KIDS ON WARMER TRIPS
PROS: Room to move, warm when wet
CONS: Cooler than mummy bags
LEARN HOW TO CHOOSE HIKING GEAR FOR YOUR NEXT ADVENTURE
HOW TO CHOOSE A SLEEPING BAG FOR BACKPACKING
Finding the best sleeping bag is like finding the best hiking shoes, it’s different for everyone. Pick the most important features to you out of this list when shopping for your next bag.
SLEEPING BAG TEMPERATURE RATING
WHAT IS THE EN STANDARD RATING?
Until recently, every manufacturer measured their sleeping bags in their own way. This meant it was difficult to compare between brands as the actual comfortable temperatures differed.
The EN 13537 (European Norm) Temperature Rating Standard for sleeping bags was produced to fix that problem by applying the same laboratory test to all sleeping bags. Every bag with an EN Rating has been through the same test.
The actual test uses a mannequin on it’s back in the sleeping bag with thin base layers on, a hat and socks, on a 1-inch closed-cell foam pad.
The results are 4 different temperatures you can use to compare sleeping bags: upper limit, comfort, lower limit and extreme.
WHAT ARE UPPER LIMIT, COMFORT, LOWER LIMIT & EXTREME RATINGS?
UPPER LIMIT is the highest temperature a man can sleep without excessive sweating, hood and zippers open, arms outside the bag.
COMFORT is the lowest temperature an average woman would have a comfortable nights sleep in a relaxed position.
LOWER LIMIT is the lowest temperature the average man would have a comfortable nights sleep in a curled position.
EXTREME is the lowest temperature the average woman would not get hypothermia. Frostbite is possible though.
Most sleeping bags will list Comfort, Lower Limit and Extreme ratings on the bag. Being too warm is an easier problem to deal with than being too cold.
OTHER WARMTH VARIABLES
Other things like staying hydrated, eating good food, doing light exercise before bed and being dry all contribute to being warmer through the night.
The EN 13537 Standard uses a sleeping pad with an R-value of 1 and thin top and bottom base layers. Having warmer clothes and pad will increase the temperature.
CHOOSING A TEMPERATURE RATING
Many variables factor into how warm you’ll be in a sleeping bag. A good rule is to aim for a bag that’s 10 degrees warmer than the coolest temperature anticipated on your trip. Warmer clothes or liners will add some warmth too. The EN Standard is a good starting point but experimenting with small trips will be the best test.
Sleeping bags can be grouped into Summer, 3-season and winter based on the temperature rating and features. Try not to pick your bag based on the season but on the lowest temperature rating you’ll encounter on your trip. Remember that you can use sleeping bag liners or wear base layers to add a few degrees of warmth.
Summer sleeping bags are typically rated 32 F (0 C) or higher. They’re great for sleeping in the 40s and 50s (4 C – 10 C). They may not have the features that keep you warmer in colder temperatures like hoods and draft collars. Most rectangular bags are summer bags and rated for warmer temperatures.
3-season bags are the workhorse of the outdoors. They are usually rated from 10 F to 32 F (-12 C – 0 C) for sleeping in around 20 F to 40 F (-6 C – 4 C). If you only get one bag for backpacking something in this category would probably work well. You can easily use them in the summer by unzipping or just draping it over you like a quilt. Keep in mind that if you are using it in the summer, you’re carrying more weight than necessary but it will save you from buying another bag.
Winter bags are the warmest of the bunch. If you plan on hiking and camping in the snow, this is the type of bag you’ll need. Rated for 10 F (-12 C) or lower, they usually have features that keep you toasty warm and dry on a trip like hoods, draft tubes, draft collars.
The 2 main designs of sleeping bags are the rectangle and the mummy. Mummy bags are close fitting, they usually have hoods and can be much warmer than rectangle shaped bags. For cooler temperatures, mummy bags might not be the only option.
Rectangles are less expensive, good for warm temperatures and have more room to move around. The temperature rating you choose will likely decide what design of a bag you get.
In between rectangle and mummy bags are the hybrids. They are a combination of both. They can be wide mummy bags offering more room, or rectangles with hoods for a bit more warmth. Hybrids are less common than standard mummy bags and rectangles.
Ultralight quilts are gaining popularity as well. They are similar to a quilt at home but made out of sleeping bag material. They can be very lightweight but don’t work as well for sleepers who move around a lot.
When backpacking with your sleeping bag, weight is a big consideration. Part of the big three items in terms of weight (your sleep system, shelter and backpack), sleeping bags take up a good chunk of weight.
The different types of insulation will make the biggest different in weight. Down will be lighter than synthetic. Other features like zippers and hoods add weight as well.
Packed size of a sleeping bag is the smallest size it can pack down to. This depends on the thickness of the shell fabric and the packability of the insulation. Down packs smaller than synthetic. Thin shell fabrics will be less durable but pack down better than thick ones.
Down sleeping bags are popular because they’re lightweight and packable. They’re also more expensive than synthetic bags. If you’re looking for the lightest bag with the smallest packed size, then look for down. The main problem with down is that it’s not water resistant and loses loft when wet. Losing loft means you’re losing warmth. Down lasts longer than synthetic fill. Some down bags can go through decades of use.
Down is rated by it’s fill power. Higher quality down will require less insulation to fill up the same space. 550 fill power down is on the lower end being heavier and bulkier than 800 or 900 fill power down.
GOOSE DOWN VS DUCK DOWN
Goose down is the most common for sleeping bags. You might see some made from duck down but don’t worry when you do, they’re very similar in quality.
Some companies are coming out with water-resistant down to get around the loft issue with wet down. DownTek and others have developed a very thin coating to make the plumes water resistant. It reduces the amount of water trapped and absorbed by the down and speeds drying but is still not as good as synthetic for warmth when wet and drying speed.
Synthetic insulation is getting better and better every year. It’s still not as light or packable as down but it’s less expensive and faster drying. If you’re traveling to a humid place synthetic might be a good choice for you. Synthetic is usually less expensive than down but won’t last as long.
HYBRID DOWN & SYNTHETIC
Less common are the hybrid sleeping bags made of both synthetic and down insulation. These bags use synthetic insulation in places that are likely to get damp so they are and then down for the bulk of the insulation on top of the bag so it’s lightweight and packable. They will be lighter than an all-synthetic bag and faster drying than an all-down bag.
Many things can affect the comfort of a sleeping bag. Movement room, insulation fabric and how the features are designed are a few of the bigger ones.
EASE OF MOVEMENT
A sleeping bag that is too tight isn’t going comfortable. A sleeping bag that is too large won’t be warm. Look for a bag that is a good balance in between. You may want more space in the winter to add extra clothes or gear at your feet to warm for the morning.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR STOMACH SLEEPERS
Sleeping face down in a sleeping bag hood probably won’t be comfortable for you. Quilts and hoodless bags will leave room to move.
DOWN BREATHES MORE
One downside to synthetic is that it doesn’t as breathe as well as down. Down is better at regulating temperature and breathing moisture out from inside the bag.
FEEL OF THE FABRIC
Most sleeping bags are made out of nylon and polyester. Some are softer and smoother than others. You may not want the nylon against your skin and opt for a heavier bag with a different fabric. Lay in your favorite choices for sleeping bags if you can in similar clothing to your sleep setup to see what they feel like.
WHERE ARE THE CONTROLS, DRAFT TUBES, AND DRAFT COLLARS?
3-season and winter bags have all sorts of features like draft collars, draft tubes and hoods that can be uncomfortable if they’re not placed well for your body. Lay in the bag if possible and see what all the adjustments feel like tightened up and loosened off.
A good sleeping bag is an investment and some don’t come cheap. Think about what conditions you’ll be able to use your bag in over the year. Aim for a bag that you can use in many different situations.
Sleeping bags vary in quality. Depending on the amount of insulation inside, quality can make a difference of hundreds of dollars. A $50 sleeping bag isn’t going to be the same level of quality as a $300 one.
When testing a sleeping bag pull on the zippers and parts of the shell. Do seams look sturdy? Does it look like it will hold up to years worth of use? Also look at where the insulation is. Is it evenly distributed? Is it all lumped on the top or bottom? Having all your insulation in one place will create cold spots.
SLEEPING BAG FEATURES
Baffles are separators inside the two sleeping bags layers that keep down locked in certain areas around the sleeping bag. Synthetic insulation tends to not move around as much. Baffles make sure the down doesn’t all end up at your feet. The three main configurations for these internal pockets are Vertical, Continuous and Side-Block.
Vertical baffles run the length of the bag from the head to toe. They prevent the down from moving from the top of the bag to the bottom of the bag. You can intentionally move down towards your feet or torso if you want.
Continuous baffles run around your body in a hoop. Down can’t move from torso to feet but it can move from below you to above you. This means you can move the down yourself to have more or less on the top.
Side-block baffles are a continuous baffle with a wall on the side opposite the zipper preventing down from moving from top to bottom. Sometimes bags have less down on the bottom where your sleeping pad will be keeping most of it on top.
Mummy bags tend to have hoods that you can tighten in colder temperatures. They will trap more heat than bags without hoods. Summer or rectangular bags often don’t have hoods.
Thin shell fabrics will be lighter than thick ones but less durable. Sleeping bags don’t tend to get a lot of abuse because they’re only inside the tent so go with as lightweight as you can. Some shells are very water resistant preventing condensation from getting in. Water-resistant bags are especially useful in below-freezing temperatures when condensation can really become an issue.
Zippers can be full and all the way to the foot of the bag or just partial and only half or a quarter of the bag. Some bags have double zippers letting you vent the bottom if it’s too warm.
Zippers can be on the left or right. It’s a personal preference which side you’d like the zipper on but often people prefer to have it on the side opposite to their dominant hand so they reach across their body to unzip.
If you’re thinking of zipping a bag together with your tent mate, you can get bags that attach to one another. Just make sure you get one with a left zipper and one with a right zipper.
When testing sleeping bags, check the zipper doesn’t catch the sleeping bag material. Besides possibly tearing your sleeping bag, it’s a frustrating experience when you’re cold and tired. Many bags have a stiff tape along the inside to prevent snags.
A draft tube is an insulated part of the bag that hangs down over the zipper to prevent drafts of cool air. Make sure it actually covers the opening and doesn’t snag the zipper.
NECK BAFFLE OR DRAFT COLLAR
Bags rated for cold weather usually have a draft collar around the shoulders. These prevent warm air from escaping the body of the bag. Some are adjustable. The best have elastic cords of different types, sometimes round and flat, so you can tell the difference between the controls in the middle of the night.
Small pockets on the inside or outside of the bag make great spots for a headlamp or glasses to grab in the middle of the night. Pockets inside the bag can be accessed without unzipping.
When laying in your bag your feet will be upright in the bottom of the bag. Some bags include extra space in the foot box of the bag so you can comfortably angle your feet upwards.
SLEEPING BAG ACCESSORIES
Most backpacking sleeping bags will come with a compression sack with straps to pack your sleeping bag down as small as possible. There are a wide range of good compression sacks on the marketing, including waterproof ones, if the one with your sleeping bag isn’t great.
Sleeping bags should be stored laid out flat with nothing on top or in a large bag allowing them to breathe and expand as much as possible. Bags usually come with a storage bag that will give them enough room.
SLEEPING BAG LINERS
Sleeping bag liners are thin bags that go inside your sleeping bag like a sheet on a bed. Some just prevent the bag from getting the dirt and oils off your skin while others can add up to 10 degrees extra warmth to your sleeping bag. If you need a few more degrees warmth out of your bag for a trip, think about a liner instead of a whole new bag.
HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR SLEEPING BAG
MAINTENANCE & STORAGE
Sleeping bags should be kept as clean and dry as possible. Always dry them out before storing and store them in the storage sack they came with or another large breathable bag. Storing laid out under a bed works well too. Using a sleeping bag liner will keep the inside cleaner for longer.
Just like any other piece of outdoor gear, sleeping bags can get dirty. To help them last as long as possible, clean them whenever they get dirt. Using a liner will keep the inside cleaner longer.
Most sleeping bags you can be hand or machine washed and machine dried. Make sure to follow specific instructions on your bag if there are any.
- Add cool or warm water in a tub or sink. Add just enough soap otherwise it’s harder to wash out. Use very mild or specific down soap like Nikwax.
- Lay your bag in the water and gently work the soap in. Soak for up to 1 hour.
- Drain the water from the tub.
- Add cool to warm water again. Gently work out soap.
- Let sit for 15 minutes then drain. Press out remaining water.
- Repeat until soap is gone.
- Ball it up in your arms to get it to a dryer and not to strain the wet seams.
Most sleeping bags can be machine washed. Follow the instructions on the bag if there are any. Use front loading washing machines or top-loaders with no agitators. The agitator can tear the bag.
Use the gentle cycle with cold or warm water and as little soap as possible. You can add a few other items to balance the spin out. You can rinse twice or run a whole cycle without soap to get all the soap out.
Once you’ve washed your bag, you’ll need to dry it. It’s recommended to dry it in a dryer so it dries faster and you won’t risk mildew.
- Start the dryer on low heat. Any higher and you could melt the fabric and synthetic insulation.
- When it’s almost dry add a couple of tennis balls to break up insulation clumps.
- Continue until completely dry and no clumps of insulation are left.
- Lay out flat overnight if you can to make sure it’s completely dry before storing in the storage sack.
You can also lay the flat and break up clumps manually but faster drying is better to prevent mildew.
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